Thursday, June 16, 2011

Who Invented the Middle Ages?

I thought that it was the Victorians who invented the Middle Ages. They invented much of the romance that surrounds our impressions of this period. I was wrong. It was the Italians in the 15th and 16th centuries.
A quick check of the Oxford English Dictionary reveals that the earliest mention of the term 'Middle Ages' or 'Middle Age' as it was in this text was in 1570's J. Foxe Actes & Monumentes (rev. ed.) I.III 204/1 "The primitive tyme of the church....the middle age, and ..these our latter dayes of the church"
William Camden, who wrote the great Britannia, used the term in 1605 writing, "I will onely giue you a taste of some midle age, which was so ouercast with darke clouds, or rather thicke fogges of ignorance."
H. Wotton wrote in 1624 "after the reuiuing and repolishing of good Literature, (which the combustions and tumults of the middle Age had vnciuillized)"
Edward Gibbon also used the term, "During the middle ages, (from the ninth to the twelfth century) whilst Christianity was advancing with a slow progress into the North." 1776
Henry Hallam considered the Middle Ages to run from the invasion of France by Clovis in 490 A.D. to the invasion of Naples by Charles VIII in 1494.
I consider it to start with the fall of Rome in 410 A.D. and end with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It seems neater that way. Begins with the fall of the western half of the Roman empire and ends with the fall of the eastern half.
The OED goes on to say that the term comes from the Latin media aetas, medium aevum, medium tempus and was especially used in Basle. ( at the university I assume) 1469 in Rome was the first use of media tempestas but they didn't list who the author/ authors were. Perhaps it evolved from Petrach since the concept of the "Dark Ages" is credited to him as well. Historians in the Middle Ages went with the 'Six Ages of the World' of Augustine and considered themselves in the last age before the Apocalypse. People have been predicting the Rapture forever.

7 comments:

Tracy said...

I'm just re-reading Medieval Britain now - and the authors begin the book with 1066 and William of Normandy being crowned King, and it ends with The Wars of the Roses, 1490, and the beginning of the reigns of the Tudors.

The Plashing Vole said...

Well, it won't seem 'middle' for much longer, but at least it's better than 'dark ages'.
I challenge anyone not to think of the phrase 'thick fogges of ignorance' while perusing the internet.

anachronist said...

A very interesting post, thank you. I also thought the term came from Victorians but apparently it was much older.

I consider it to start with the fall of Rome in 410 A.D. and end with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It seems neater that way.

I was taught that way in school too, although we were presented with alternatives like discovering the Americas by C.Columbus as the ending of the period.

The Red Witch said...

There is definitely no agreement on what constitutes the Middle Ages but, since it was all about the Church having absolute control over people's lives, perhaps we can say it started in 312 with the Battle of the Milvan Bridge and Constantine's vision. Then it should end when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints in Wittenberg 1517.

@I challenge anyone not to think of the phrase 'thick fogges of ignorance' while perusing the internet.

And getting thicker all the time but there are some nuggets of wisdom hidden in the fog.

anachronist said...

There is indeed no consensus and if you take into accoun the influence of the Catholic Church on politics your second set of dates is even more fitting.

Internet is kind of swamp with some islets of wisdom and fun. Pretty normal.

Tracy said...

I'm halfway through this book and no mention yet of the origin of the term 'The Middle Ages', though it uses that description in several chapters. Yet in the same series, both the books on The Vikings and The Celts go into some detail about the origin of the terms and what precisely (or, more accurately, imprecisely) they mean, and right at the beginning of the books, too.

The Red Witch said...

I am not surprised. The term evolved over time. There was not any one person to coin it.